Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
10 Mar 2006

VERDI: La Traviata

Could La Traviata be the opera with the most versions available on DVD? The appetite for the doomed heroine never wavers.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

Eva Mei, Piotr Bezcala, Thomas Hampson, Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Franz Welser-Most (cond.)
Live from the Zurich Opera House 2005

ArtHaus 101 247 [DVD]

 

The talk of last year was the production at Salzburg with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, and Thomas Hampson; a live recording has been released on CD, and a DVD may follow. Hampson’s Papa Germont can be seen on another 2005 Traviata, directed by Jurgen Flimm and filmed in Zurich by Felix Breisach. Eva Mei and Piotr Bezcala round out the cast of the DVD.

ArtHaus has gone to some expense with the packaging. There is a slipcover for a triple-fold-out, with vivid photos from the production on every face. The booklet essay runs through the basics of the creation of Verdi’s opera, while a note on the case assures us that Flimm’s production of “discreet sets” explores “the opera’s psychological landscapes…fully and effectively…”

On the screen, the production can be seen as “discreet,” but surely some viewers will find it barren, perhaps even cheap. The backdrop consists of a folding black wall, around and through which characters appear. Some tables serve as the furnishing for Violetta’s home in act one, while in act two some lawn furniture and a plot of dirt with a few flowers (they look like cabbages from the long view) indicate the country house. The wall folds out to form the party scene at Flora’s, and for the final act Violetta’s home is bare of everything except a bed and an anachronistic electric heater in the middle of the floor.

Costumes for some of the minor characters appear fairly traditional, but the three main roles have outfits of vague time period, with Mei’s Violetta in particular looking more modern than the men, with her attractive short cut and sleek wardrobe.

In other words, for those who want a traditional, even lavish production (for all but the last act, one hopes), this production will not do. On its own terms, Flimm’s design does serve the primary objective of putting the emphasis on the human drama, and he has three fine principals to bring life to the otherwise arid environment.

But that is not to say that the direction cannot be questioned. Starting with the men, the approach to Alfredo, very well sung by Piotr Bezcala, seems wrong-headed. He is a naïf in act one, even dopey, clutching a ridiculous bouquet of fake flowers and shyly hanging back like a junior high school boy at his first dance. Bezcala has the looks to entrance most any woman, but what Violetta sees in him, as directed here, may confuse some viewers. Later Bezcala scores some dramatic points, flying into a rage at Violetta’s abandonment and ecstatically embracing her at their reunion. He also takes the high option at the end of his second act cabaletta, and with fair success.

Hampson’s Giorgio Germont takes stiff and proper as the defining characteristics of the elder Germont, to the extent that one worries when he takes a seat that the imaginary stick inside him will snap and cause grave internal injury. His love for his son comes wrenchingly into view at the end of the second act country house scene, although some of the gasps and awkward shuffling may be overdone to some viewers. He also gets the cabaletta to “Di provenza,” and sings it well enough to make one regret its absence in other productions. However, it does require that the Alfredo spend many a minute anxiously clutching Violetta’s note in agony.

But the heart and soul of any Traviata is its Violetta, and Mei took this viewer by surprise. She has been effective in some RCA recordings, and she gives a very professional performance in a recent La Sonnambula DVD. Here, she has a role that employs both her impressive coloratura and the ease of her top, best displayed by a fine high E flat at the end of act one. Throughout, she sings with graceful command of her resources.

Her acting favors dignity over pathos. In a notable exception, when Alfredo on meeting her expresses his wish that a beauty such as hers should find “immortality,” the fleeting wince of Violetta’s face rends the heart. Overall, however, in act one she may be a bit too cool, with the cries of “joy” really feeling forced. Similarly, she seems to concede to Papa Germont with less pain than some other Violettas, and when she says she will accomplish the break with Alfredo by dying, her underplaying may not convince all viewers. Act three, however, finds her right in the heart of the role, with a tear-inducing final collapse. For completists, she also sings both verses to “Addio del passato.”

Welser-Most’s conducting starts off rather cheerless and over-emphatic, especially during the “Libiamo,” but perhaps he chose to emphasize some of Verdi’s anger at bourgeoisie morality. As the opera progresses, he offers fine support.

The titles have some odd phrases: Germont calls Violetta a “sublime victim” and Violetta urges Alfredo to marry a “chaste virgin.” Well, yes, it is nice to find a chaste one, but beggars can’t be choosers. As they say.

For passionate lovers of the opera, this should be part of the collection. It can’t be called an unqualified success, but with a riveting Violetta and two fine singers in the other leads (as well as an Annina, Irene Friedli, who for once doesn’t sound a 1,000 years old), quibbles about the production and direction can be put aside. Recommended.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):